Friday, September 26, 2014
Obama Organizes World Community on Climate Change
The great community organizer stood before the United Nations and rallied the peoples of the world on global warming. “Nobody gets a pass,” Barack Obama said, not even developing nations. At this point, he might have shot the Chinese delegation a glance over his teleprompter.
He continued, “The alarm bells keep ringing, our citizens keep marching,” he said, alluding to the environmentalists rallying elsewhere in New York. Did he evoke a presidential mandate from his election? No, the country is too divided for that. Instead, he based his authority for executive action on the 350,000 or so hippies, tourists and students caught up in the People’s Climate March. “We can’t pretend we can’t hear them,” Obama said. “We need to answer the call. We need to cut carbon emission in our countries to prevent worse effects, adapt and work together as global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.”
He might have worn out his welcome in the neighborhood of Capitol Hill, but this new neighborhood seems promising.
Robert Kennedy Jr., A nasty little tyrant and an American Fascist
He’d like to charge the Kochs with treason and send climate-change dissenters to jail
Blissfully unaware of how hot the irony burned, Robert Kennedy Jr. yesterday took to a public protest to rail avidly in favor of censorship. The United States government, Kennedy lamented in an interview with Climate Depot, is not permitted by law to “punish” or to imprison those who disagree with him — and this, he proposed, is a problem of existential proportions. Were he to have his way, Kennedy admitted, he would cheer the prosecution of a host of “treasonous” figures — among them a number of unspecified “politicians”; those bêtes noires of the global Left, Kansas’s own Koch Brothers; “the oil industry and the Republican echo chamber”; and, for good measure, anybody else whose estimation of the threat posed by fossil fuels has provoked them into “selling out the public trust.” Those who contend that global warming “does not exist,” Kennedy claimed, are guilty of “a criminal offense — and they ought to be serving time for it.”
Thus did a scion of one of America’s great political dynasties put himself on the same lowly moral, legal, and intellectual plane as the titillation website Gawker.
It is dull and dispiriting that it should need so often to be repeated, but, for the sake of tedious clarity, repeat it I shall: Freedom of speech is a wholly fruitless guarantee unless it is held steadfastly to protect even those utterances that most pugnaciously contravene the zeitgeist and most grievously offend the well-connected. Inherent to the safeguard, further, is the supposition that the state may not distinguish between speakers or make legal judgments as to whose words are valuable are whose should be frowned upon. Despite a concerted and increasingly unsustainable attempt to suggest otherwise, the question of climate change remains an open and rambunctious one, and the debate that surrounds the topic remains protected in practice by the First Amendment and in civil society by the dual forces of taste and liberality. Robert Kennedy, by agitating for the suppression of heterodoxy, is casting himself as an enemy of all three.
Kennedy’s insidious aspirations are the inevitable consequence of his conviction that he is in possession of the truth and that all who have the temerity to question him are, in consequence, wreckers. At the best of times, and on the least shaky of epistemological ground, this is a dangerous instinct. In this area in particular, it is downright frightening. Of late, it has become drearily standard to hear the Kennedys of the world pretend that if one acknowledges basic climate mechanics, one is forced to take notoriously unreliable computer models at face value and, further, to acquiesce in whatever political “solutions” are currently en vogue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever “consensus” can be said to exist in the realm of climatology is largely limited to the presumption that industrial activity is bound by the same chemical, biological, and physical rules as is any other human pursuit, and to the acknowledgement that if one changes the makeup of the atmosphere, the atmosphere will change. Quite how it will change, to what extent, and to what degree any such transmutation represents a problem for life on earth, however, remain open questions. At present, there remain serious disagreements as to what has caused the current “pause” in global warming; as to what accounts for the embarrassing failure of so many of the forecasts on which we are expected to rely; as to how much of an effect modulations in the climate are having on extreme weather events; and as to how much we can possibly know about the future anyhow.
Wide open, too, are the political questions of what exactly can and should be done about any genuine changes in climate — and at what cost; of whether some climatological alterations are in fact a reasonable price to pay for the astonishing improvements in life expectancy and material wellbeing that the industrial revolution has yielded; of whether man is better off attempting to leverage his ingenuity and to outrun Gaia as he has outrun Malthus; and of at what cost to our liberty and our safety any amendments to our way of life might come. When the likes of Robert Kennedy reveal themselves to be the nasty little tyrants that we have always suspected them to be, this lattermost question comes screaming back into focus. If this affair has revealed any “treason” at all, the guilty party is not the skeptical population of the United States, but Robert Kennedy and his enablers. To fantasize about jailing one’s opponents is, I’m afraid, a sure sign of mental imbalance, and a gold-leafed invitation to be quietly excluded from polite society. Goodbye, Robert.
Scientific knowledge, by its nature, cannot ever be said to be so “settled” as to justify the silencing of critics. Still, even were the debate over climate change in some way to be resolved in perpetuity, the prospect of incarcerating those who dissented would be no less grotesque. In the small part of Planet Earth in which man can be said to be free, governments exist to secure the liberty of those that employ them, not to serve as arbiters of truth. When Robert Kennedy contends that there ought to be “a law” with which the state “could punish” nonconformists, he is in effect inviting Washington, D.C., to establish itself as an oracle, to ensconce in aspic a set of approved facts, and to cast those who refuse to accede as heretics who must be hunted down and burned in the interest of the greater good. In other words, he is advising that we dismantle that most precious of all liberties: the right to our own conscience. As the blood-spattered history of the human race shows us in appalling and graphic detail, the wise response to the man who insists that the Holocaust did not happen, or that 2 + 2 = 5, or that the United States is geographically smaller than Sweden is to gently correct him — and, if one must, to mock or ignore or berate him, too. It is never — under any circumstances — to push him through the criminal-justice system. The cry “but this is different” remains in the case of climate change precisely what it has always been: the cry of the ambitious and the despotic. Once the principle of free speech is subordinated to expedience, circumstances can always be found to justify its suppression.
It is alarming, perhaps, that the loudest condemnations of Kennedy and his ilk will come not from the scientific community, but from a small clique of classical liberals who remain uncommonly jealous of their rights and who are prepared to fight for them come what may. Where, though, is the outcry from the academy? A state that is sufficiently intrusive to jail anybody who dissents from the “consensus” of the “scientific community” is also sufficiently intrusive to jail those within it. By what mathematical standard might we determine who is to be saved? Worse, perhaps, the suggestion that the nation’s courts exist to arbitrate intellectual disputes serves to plant in the minds of the general public the false and counterproductive notion that it is government force and not the interplay of unfettered reason and objective reality that determines “truth.” Airplanes do not fly because the FAA grants them approval to do so, but because our engineers and physicists have correctly determined what they need to do in order that steel might conquer air. Insofar as it has one at all in this area, the role of the state is to facilitate debate and innovation and, at least as far as the exchange of ideas is concerned, then stay out of the way. That the actions of the government and the judgments of a particular subsection of society sometimes line up is an inevitable and, sometimes, a good thing. Nevertheless, taking advice from a group and punishing that group’s critics are different things altogether, for hypotheses cannot be either proven or disproven by jackboots alone.
In its purest form, the case against Robert Kennedy’s being permitted to subject the Koch brothers to “three hots and a cot at the Hague with all the other war criminals” is a relatively straightforward one: Namely, that the Kochs are not war criminals, and that nor, for that matter, are the politicians, pundits, entertainers, businessmen, and voters who have joined them in skepticism. And yet the importance of keeping Kennedy’s view at the fringes goes much, much deeper, relating as it does to core questions about liberty, scientific inquiry, and the manner in which the two feed and support one another. There are fair arguments to be had about surface temperatures, chlorofluorocarbons, and the troposphere, but not a single one of them can be productively indulged if the price of the game is the destruction of its less popular players.
What really drives anti-fracking zealots?
by PAUL DRIESSEN
Recent news stories underscore the tremendous benefits brought by America's fracking revolution.
* The shale oil production boom could boost US crude production to 9.5 million barrels of oil per day (bopd) next year, reducing America's crude oil imports to 21% of domestic demand, the lowest level since 1968. Output from fracked wells represents 43% of all US oil production and 67% of natural gas production; "frack oil" could hit 10 million bopd by 2016, the Energy Information Administration says.
* The global economy saves $4.9 billion per day in oil spending because of the shale oil boom. Without it there would be a 3 million barrel per day shortfall and prices would likely be 55% higher: $150/barrel.
* Constantly improving hydraulic fracturing technologies continue to increase production. For example, Cabot Oil & Gas refracked a 2013 Pennsylvania well, increasing its output to 30.3 million cubic feet of gas per day; that's four times the output from the best well drilled in 2003. Fracking is even being used in decades-old onshore and offshore wells, to keep them producing for many more years.
* Rust Belt cities and industries - from manufacturing, real estate and law to hotels, restaurants and many others - are rebounding because of drilling, fracking and production in nearby shale areas. In Ohio unemployment fell to 5.7% in July from 10.6% four years ago; oil output increased 26% just from the previous quarter, while gas production rose 31% - generating billions in state and local revenues.
* The US oil and natural gas boom means jobs and business for almost 30,000 companies within the industry's vast and complex supply chain. Indeed, the petroleum industry accounts for nearly 10 million jobs and almost 8% of all domestic economic activity, including states far from actual drilling activities.
* The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers launched a new website to help veterans and other men and women find high-paying jobs in the booming oilfield, fuel and petrochemical industries.
There are numerous other benefits, while the alleged risks are exaggerated or even fabricated. So what drives anti-fracking zealots who seem to materialize en masse whenever a new project is announced?
Follow the money - and the ideology. Big Green is big business. The US environmental activist industry alone is a $13.4-billion-a-year operation. It pours that money into determined campaigns to eliminate fossil fuels, gain ever greater control over our lives, reduce our living standards, and end free-enterprise capitalism. It drives its agenda with clever but phony crises: catastrophic climate change, unsustainable development, imminent resource depletion, poisonous frack chemicals and dozens of others.
Fracking obliterates its claim that we are about to run out of oil and gas - and so must slash our living standards, spend billions on crony-corporatist "renewable energy" schemes, and put radical green bureaucrats and activists in charge of our lives, livelihoods, living standards and remaining liberties. They are incensed that fracking guarantees a hydrocarbon renaissance and predominance for decades to come. They won't even acknowledge that "frack gas" helps reduce (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide emissions.
Even über wealthy celebrities get involved. Exaggerations and fabrications, confrontations and often callous disregard of other people's needs are their stock in trade. In torrents of angry outrage and demands for totally one-sided precaution, they denounce any suggestion that fracking is safe or beneficial.
Whatever alternative technologies they support comply with their "precautionary principle." Whatever they oppose violates it. They trumpet alleged risks of using fracking and hydrocarbon technologies, but ignore even the most obvious benefits of using them ... and most obvious risks of not using them.
Anti-fracking zealots tend to be well-off, and largely clueless about the true sources of modern living standards. They assume electricity comes from wall sockets, food from grocery stores, iPhones from Apple Stores. You can count on one hand the farm, utility or factory workers they know personally.
They are dismissive about people who are jobless because of their war on affordable energy - and about poor rural New York families that are barely hanging onto their farms, unable to tap the Marcellus Shale riches beneath their land, because of an Albany and Manhattan-instigated moratorium.
They are equally uncaring about the world's impoverished billions, whose hope for better lives depends on the reliable, affordable electricity that drilling and fracking can help bring. Worldwide, 1.4 billion people still do not have access to electricity including 300 million in India and 550 million in Africa. Millions die from lung and intestinal diseases that would largely disappear if they had electricity.
What the frack is wrong with this picture? This is not the same environmental movement that Ron Arnold, Patrick Moore and I belonged to decades ago. Big Green has become too rich, too powerful, too driven by perverse, inhumane notions of ethics, social responsibility and compassion. Their claims about ethanol and wind power being environment-friendly are just as out of touch with reality.
But what about their incessant claims that fracking contaminates groundwater and drinking water? Even EPA has not been able to cite a single "proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water." A September 2013 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences further confirms this. After carefully examining water wells in heavily fracked areas of Pennsylvania and Texas, researchers concluded that rare cases of methane (natural gas) contamination were not due to fracking.
Instead they resulted from improper cement and pipe installation near the surface, thousands of feet above the frack zone. The problem is covered by existing regulations and is preventable and relatively easy to correct. Petroleum industry and state officials are already collaborating to further strengthen the regulations where necessary, enforce them more vigorously, and improve well completion practices.
Moreover, some of the contamination resulted from water wells being drilled through rock formations that hold naturally occurring methane. Indeed, there have been very few cases of any contamination, out of more than one million wells hydraulically fractured since the first "frack job" was done in 1947, and out of 20,000 wells fracked in Pennsylvania since the Keystone State's boom began in 2008.
Of course, none of this is likely to assuage anti-fracking factions or end their fictions. They are driven by motives that have nothing to do with protecting people's health or environmental quality. In fact, what they advocate would further impair human health and environmental quality.
The great Irish statesman Edmund Burke could have been talking about these "fracktivists" when he said: "Because half a dozen grasshoppers make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle ... chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that they are the only inhabitants of the field ... or that they are other than little, shriveled, meager, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour."
Unfortunately, these definitely loud and troublesome insects have also grown powerful, meddlesome and effective. So fracking supporters must continue to battle the anti-energy ideologues - by becoming better community organizers and persuaders themselves, to counter the anti-fossil fuel lies and insanity, and the destructive policies, rules and moratoria imposed by ill-advised or ideological politicians and regulators.
We fracking supporters are clearly on the side of humanity, morality, true sustainability and real environmental progress. We also know that - no matter how hard eco-activists despise it and rail against it - they cannot put the fracking genie back in the bottle.
America and the world have awakened to its potential - and to the critical need for this technology. Let us applaud this incredible progress, and champion it throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and worldwide.
New Research Finds Earth Even Less Sensitive To CO2 Than Previously Thought
Research Used Data From This Year’s IPCC 5th Assessment Report
A new paper published in the prestigious journal Climate Dynamics find that the effect of carbon dioxide emissions on global temperatures is likely to be even smaller than previously thought.
Earlier this year, in a widely discussed report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, climate researcher Nic Lewis and science writer Marcel Crok put forward a new estimate of the Earth’s climate sensitivity based on observational data, finding that it was much less alarming than suggested by computer simulations of the Earth’s climate.
Now, Lewis and well known American climate science professor Judith Curry have updated the Lewis and Crok report estimates using the latest empirical data, a more sophisticated methodology and an approach to accounting for uncertainties that has been described by one independent reviewer as “state of the art”. Their findings fully support the modest estimates of climate sensitivity and future warming given in the Lewis and Crok report, and compared with that report make it look even less likely that the substantially higher estimates based on computer simulations are correct.
“Our results, which use data from this year’s IPCC fifth assessment report, are in line with those of several recent studies based on observed centennial warming and strongly suggest complex global climate models used for warming projections are oversensitive to carbon dioxide concentrations,” said Nic Lewis.
Best sensitivity estimates are medians (50% probability points). Ranges are to the nearest 0.05°C
Journal abstract follows:
Nicholas Lewis & Judith A. Curry (2014) "The implications for climate sensitivity of AR5 forcing and heat uptake estimates", Climate Dynamics 25 September 2014
Energy budget estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) and transient climate response (TCR) are derived using the comprehensive 1750–2011 time series and the uncertainty ranges for forcing components provided in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Working Group I Report, along with its estimates of heat accumulation in the climate system. The resulting estimates are less dependent on global climate models and allow more realistically for forcing uncertainties than similar estimates based on forcings diagnosed from simulations by such models. Base and final periods are selected that have well matched volcanic activity and influence from internal variability. Using 1859–1882 for the base period and 1995–2011 for the final period, thus avoiding major volcanic activity, median estimates are derived for ECS of 1.64 K and for TCR of 1.33 K. ECS 17–83 and 5–95 % uncertainty ranges are 1.25–2.45 and 1.05–4.05 K; the corresponding TCR ranges are 1.05–1.80 and 0.90–2.50 K. Results using alternative well-matched base and final periods provide similar best estimates but give wider uncertainty ranges, principally reflecting smaller changes in average forcing. Uncertainty in aerosol forcing is the dominant contribution to the ECS and TCR uncertainty ranges.
GREENIE ROUNDUP FROM AUSTRALIA
Three current articles below
Climate-related disasters cost the world half a trillion dollars, warns Oxfam on eve of UN Climate Summit
A wild and completely unsubstantiated claim. There has in any case been no global warming in the period concerned. And there have also been fewer weather extremes in the period
On the eve of the UN Climate Summit, Oxfam has released research showing that since global leaders last met in Copenhagen to discuss climate change five years ago, climate-related disasters have cost the world almost half a trillion dollars.
Oxfam Australia climate change policy advisor Simon Bradshaw said that given tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets over the weekend, Oxfam was disappointed the Prime Minister was not attending the summit in New York, and urged the Australian Government to start living up to its international responsibilities on climate change.
“While others forge ahead with ambitious plans, Australia is continuing down a path of irresponsibility and recklessness,” Dr Bradshaw said.
“Oxfam’s research shows that over the five years since the Copenhagen summit, more than 650 million people have been affected by climate-related disasters and more than 112,000 lives have been lost.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s expected no-show at the landmark summit is yet another affront to our neighbours in the Pacific who, despite their limited resources, are working determinedly to confront the climate challenge.”
The 120 or so world leaders expected in New York – the largest group that has ever come together to discuss climate change - include the heads of most of Australia’s major trading partners and the leaders of almost all Pacific island countries.
“As an international development agency working in countries throughout the region, we know that even the poorest countries – those with the least responsibility for the climate crisis - are no longer waiting for rich countries like Australia to get their houses in order,” Dr Bradshaw said.
“From Timor Leste to Vanuatu, communities are working with whatever means they have. They are leapfrogging the dirty technologies of the past and drawing on their strengths to build the sustainable, resilient economies of the future.”
He said Australia must have an ambitious long-term plan to cut its own emissions, increase support to developing countries, and play a constructive role towards a strong global climate agreement.
“A decision by a rich country like Australia to roll back its climate policies and flout its international obligations is a decision to place an even greater burden onto poor communities in developing countries, who are already being hit first and hardest by climate change,” he said.
Oxfam also said that in pushing to expand its fossil fuel sector, Australia was not only increasing its contribution to dangerous climate change but risked being left behind in the global transition to renewable energy.
“For now, Australia appears willing to ignore pleas from the international community, remain wilfully ignorant to the situation of its Pacific neighbours, and work against its own long-term national interest,” Dr Bradshaw said. “Australians have sent the strongest possible signal this weekend that they expect better.”
For interviews, please contact Laurelle Keough on +61 425 701 801
ABC science guy denies the science that even the IPCC now accepts
Even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted in its latest report that global warming had paused for some 15 years.
Read for yourself the section in the report with the headline that says it all: "Climate Models and the Hiatus in Global-Mean Surface Warming of the Past 15 Years"
So it says something about the ABC that its science presenters still deny what even the IPCC admits. Who are the true deniers of science now?
Well, here is Karl S. Kruszelnicki, who has form for denying what doesn’t suit his astonishing climate alarmism:
In the USA, the Wall Street Journal wrote, “temperatures have been flat for 15 years - nobody can properly explain it.”
Another newspaper from the same stable, the UK Daily Mail wrote “global warming ‘pause’ may last 20 more years, and Arctic sea ice has already started to recover”. Both of these statements are very reassuring, but unfortunately, very very wrong.
With regard to this ‘pause’, there are two major claims made by those who deny the science of climate change.
The first one is that the climate is actually cooling - not warming. This is incorrect.
The second claim is that after some previous warming, the global climate is now constant, and neither warming nor cooling. In other words, that the climate is in a kind of holding pattern, or haitus. This is also incorrect… The climate is still heating up.
You can read Dr Karl’s long and curious justification for refusing to believe in the warming pause, or you can simply check this graphic and decide for yourself whether Dr Karl should really be presenting science for the ABC:
Nationals MP George Christensen calls Green activists 'terrorists'
Nationals MP George Christensen is fighting activists whom he calls "gutless green grubs" opposed to the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal in his electorate. In his speech to Parliament, the outspoken MP said "the greatest terrorism threat in North Queensland, I'm sad to say, comes from the extreme green movement".
Mr Christensen says groups oppose the expansion and associated jobs out of ideology and not to save the Great Barrier Reef, because they are still campaigning against the proposal, even though an onshore dumping proposal has been found.
"The eco-terrorists butchered the international tourism market for our greatest tourism attraction, not for the reef but for political ideology," he said.
Mr Christensen said the green groups had threatened to lie in front of trains in cardboard boxes and referred Fairfax Media to the radical Alpha Generation's "Over our Dead Bodies" campaign.
The Over Our Dead Bodies homepage vows to "trash the Aurizon brand, by telling the world Aurizon are actively enabling an environmental catastrophe". Aurizon is the freight company that transports coal. Ben Pennings from the group confirmed that activists had "talked about stopping trains" but said "we're not going to be putting people in harm's way".
In a statement issued after his speech, Mr Christensen referred to the "gutless green germ" activists as "terrorists" five times.
He did not retreat from his comments when contacted by Fairfax Media on Thursday and said the activists might not like coal mining, but had no right to try to shut down a legitimate business. "It's not illegal to mine or export coal," he said.
Mr Feeney slammed Mr Christensen's "infantile rhetoric", particularly in light of Tuesday's stabbing of two police officers during an encounter in which an 18-year-old "terror suspect" was shot dead.
"There are two police officers still in hospital and this government MP thinks it's OK to throw the word 'terrorism' around as part of a cheap political stunt," Mr Feeney told Fairfax Media. "This is an incredibly insensitive and stupid thing to say, especially given the horrific attack we saw less than 48 hours ago.
Climate change crowd moves goalposts — again
I have repeatedly pointed out on these pages an interesting pattern of the debating style of the loudest activists clamoring for massive government intervention to fight climate change. First, they beat their opponents to a pulp, chanting “the science is settled” and pointing everyone towards the “consensus” as epitomized in the “summary for policymakers” that accompanies the periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (Here’s just one example of Joe Romm linking the IPCC reports to the supposed scientific certainty involved.) Then, when the recipients of this public lashing actually read the peer-reviewed science and realize the case for government action is very weak, the activists change their attack completely, and now all of a sudden the IPCC reports are woefully inadequate.
In the present post, I’ll walk through yet another example of this phenomenon, in this case a recent ThinkProgress article that complains that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) isn’t a good metric when it comes to the debate over climate change. As we’ll see, when confronted with very compelling arguments that the IPCC reports and leading computer models do not justify the aggressive government intervention that the people at ThinkProgress seek, they don’t dispute the point. Instead, they rattle off all sorts of reasons that the IPCC is essentially wrong, because the computer models used in the IPCC reports leave out important details, and because the standard cost/benefit approach to judging policy recommendations doesn’t work when it comes to climate change.
All of this should make innocent onlookers very suspicious. For years, advocates of heavy restrictions on energy use and individual liberty have cited the IPCC reports in their proclamations that “the science is settled” and that only “deniers” could possibly dispute the need for immediate and strong government actions. Now all of a sudden, the leading advocates are changing their case mid-stream, implicitly admitting that the weight they originally put forth on the IPCC reports will no longer give them the conclusion they want.
The Strong Case Against Government Intervention
The opening paragraphs of the ThinkProgress article inadvertently showcase just how strong a case the critics of aggressive government intervention have made, ironically relying on the IPCC reports themselves:
When it comes to obstacles to climate action, the climate change deniers in American government are pretty well known. But there’s also a subgroup of “reasonable” critics who concede the science of climate change, then deny that anything particularly dramatic needs to be done about it policy-wise.
Their argument revolves around something economists call GDP, and they use to wriggle out of supporting major climate action by effectively saying, “Yeah, even if climate change is real, it’s not going to be a big deal.”
For the uninitiated, “gross domestic product” (GDP) is the total value, in dollars, of all the goods and services produced by the American economy — or whatever economy is being measured — in a given year. It’s become the go-to metric of our society’s material standard of living and even its general well-being. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) generally projects that losses to global GDP from climate change will be between one and five percent per year by century’s end…One to five percent is a seemingly small number. So the “reasonable” skeptics then argue an all-hands-on-deck effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions is unnecessary, and that it would likely reduce GDP even more than doing nothing.
But to hear Kate Gordon [Vice President at Next Generation, the nonprofit founded by hedge fund manager turned environmental activist Tom Steyer] tell it, this is a terrible way to frame the debate.
The rest of the ThinkProgress article then goes on to enumerate the various reasons that policymakers should not try to evaluate climate change policies in conventional terms, to see if the aggregate benefits of the interventions outweigh the aggregate costs. (Note that the article relies on the analysis provided by Kate Gordon, a lawyer and city planner who worked at CAP with John Podesta before she went to work for billionaire Tom Steyer.) The ThinkProgress article does not circle back and say that the “reasonable skeptics” are wrong insofar as their arguments go, but merely that these “reasonable skeptics” are relying on IPCC computer models that are too simplistic.
Uh Oh, ThinkProgress Starting to Sound Like “Deniers”
Yes, you read that right: It turns out that all of the much-ballyhooed “consensus signed on by all major governments and scientific organizations around the world” actually rests on quicksand. (To repeat, here’s an example of Joe Romm using this type of rhetoric to enshrine the IPCC as the epitome of scientific “consensus.”) Here’s how the new ThinkProgress article describes the IPCC reports and computer models on which they base their assessments of the costs and benefits of climate change policies:
[W]e’ve been tallying up GDP for most of this century, but projecting climate change’s impact on the economy is a whole other ballgame. On their own, the climate and the economy are enormously complex systems for computer models to even crudely replicate. Accounting for the effects of the first system on the second simply compounds the problem. So complexities, hidden factors, and feedback loops that could have profound ripple effects are all simplified away, because we just don’t have the information to know how to appropriately model those changes....
Other models can also descend into ad absurdum results pretty quickly. For example, most scientists agree an 18°C rise in global temperatures would literally render the Earth uninhabitable. But the standard computer model used by the IPCC projects that rise would only cut global GDP by half....
The point isn’t so much that one approach is better than the other. It’s that GDP projections are flung all over the map even by small changes to the input information or underlying assumptions of the models. It’s just an inherently bad metric for understanding the damage climate change will do.
Wait a second! The ThinkProgress writer is now telling us that it’s a really hard problem to model the global climate and economy? That the computer models used by the IPCC spit out nonsense results? That we can get results “all over the map” by tweaking the inputs? These guys are sure starting to sound like “deniers,” aren’t they? Is the above quote coming from a ThinkProgress post or an IER one?
So now we see their whole (original) case unraveling. We at IER have been making these points all along. For example, we reported that the computer climate/economic models were grossly simplistic and useless for policy analysis. Way back in 2009, we showed on these pages that using the analysis put out by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the costs of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill were far higher than the benefits that would accrue to Americans, and that they would plausibly be higher than the benefits accruing to the entire world—again, using the CBO’s own numbers.
The people at ThinkProgress apparently realized that they’re fighting a losing battle. Of the links to the “reasonable critics” they cite, the analysis by Jim Manzi is particularly insightful. He carefully walks through the analysis step by step, but here’s a good summary of Manzi’s thesis, written in 2008 (so the numbers may have slightly changed since then):
The current IPCC consensus forecast is that, under fairly reasonable assumptions for world population and economic growth, global temperatures will rise by about 3°C by the year 2100. Also according to the IPCC, a 4°C increase in temperatures would cause total estimated economic losses of 1–5 percent of global GDP…
This is the central problem for advocates of rapid, aggressive emissions reductions. Despite the rhetoric, the best available estimate of the damage we face from unconstrained global warming is not “global destruction,” but is instead costs on the order of 3 percent of global GDP in a much wealthier world well over a hundred years from now.
It should not, therefore, be surprising that formal efforts to weigh the near-term costs of emissions abatement against the long-term benefits from avoided global warming show few net benefits, even in theory.
After demonstrating that the standard IPCC reports have never justified the alarmist rhetoric characterizing the climate change debate, Manzi then begins to list the various reasons that even the alleged theoretically possible yet small “net benefits” will be elusive in the real world; for example, the models assume a globally coordinated regime implemented by all major emitters. In light of these difficulties, Manzi concludes that there is no case for aggressive government intervention to reduce emissions.
The ThinkProgress folks seem to realize that they can’t beat someone like Manzi (or us at IER, for that matter) on the battlefield of standard policy analysis—again, using the physical science “consensus” as stipulated by the peer-reviewed climate scientists. That’s why ThinkProgress moves the goalposts. Now all of a sudden, we can’t trust those simplistic computer models showcased in the IPCC reports, and we can’t rely on macro estimates of costs and benefits. Instead the ThinkProgress writer points us to regional (not global) impacts and brings up an insurance analogy.
Go Ahead and Use Regional Analysis—But Be Consistent
To repeat, the ThinkProgress folks realize that they can’t justify their desired government policies using conventional tools of macro cost/benefit analysis. That’s why they switch to a regional analysis:
Another problem with measuring climate change with one single GDP number is that it requires ignoring vast differences between states, regions, communities, and socio-economic strata. That can hide tremendous amounts of real human suffering that’s hard to put a price tag on. “You have to aggregate all of the impacts up to one number,” Gordon said. “Which is insane.”
She offered agriculture as an example: “We have a gigantic country with extremely different climate zones. If you want to move little corn symbols around on a map from place to place, you can move them all up north and then they’re still there,” Gordon said. “So that’s not that big a hit to GDP overall. But it’s a huge hit to the Southern Midwest and the Southeast.”
But hold on a second. The point of aggregating the damages of climate change into a single number is to be able to compare it to the damages from government restrictions on the economy. That’s the standard way that policymakers decide, “Does this proposed policy—such as a carbon tax—actually help on net or does it make Americans worse off?” The costs and benefits of a policy may be different, region by region, but in order to decide whether in the aggregate it’s a wise or foolish policy, you need to somehow aggregate those regional impacts into a grand total figure.
The ThinkProgress writer is correct that such aggregation ignores many important details. But if we’re going to quibble about it on the side of climate change impacts, then we have to be consistent and do it with the harms from government intervention.
For example, progressive writers often pooh-pooh the obvious harm that a carbon tax would pose to the coal industry, and all the jobs it would destroy. The progressives are quick to point out that a carbon tax would “create jobs” in the renewable sector, hence offsetting the losses in coal. Notice that this is exactly the kind of “aggregation” and “ignoring of specific impacts” that the ThinkProgress writer was just lamenting.
Later in the article, the ThinkProgress piece explains all of the hard-to-quantify damage that unrestricted climate change would pose to poor foreigners. Okay, but again, if that’s the route we are going to take, we need to be consistent. For humans to have any appreciable impact on climate change, it will take more than U.S. action. If the “solution” involves a slowing of the electrification of Africa, it will mean deaths. For example, a Forbes article in June reported:
Since 1990, 650 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, infant mortality has been reduced by 70%, and life expectancy has increased six years – a historic evolution powered by coal, and what the IEA has referred to as an “example” for other developing nations…There is only enough electricity generated in Sub-Sahara to power one light bulb per person for three hours a day. Over 65% of the population lives without any electricity at all.
Right now, fossil fuels (especially coal) are a very economical way to quickly bring electricity to hundreds of millions of desperately impoverished people around the globe. Part of the hard-to-quantify impact of restricting the growth in global CO2 emissions thus includes the lower standard of living, and shorter lifespans, of these desperately poor foreigners.
We do not deny that it is ultimately arbitrary to add up human lives and other important social goals on a scale of dollars and cents. But the ThinkProgress crowd is wrong to think that this consideration tilts the deck in their favor. If they can’t justify their policies using standard tools of analysis, it’s not enough to bring up all of the limitations of that original analysis—they still need to explain why their desired policies do more good than harm.
The Insurance Analogy
The ThinkProgress article then goes on to liken climate change policies to the purchase of insurance:
To their credit, most actual economists realize GDP was never meant to measure something as sweeping as the well-being of a society. It’s politicians and the figures and writers encased in the macroeconomic debate in Washington, DC that have focused on it to the exclusion of all else. Gordon argues against using GDP at all, and concentrating instead on the risks of what climate change could actually do to people and communities.
On the question of how much we should spend to ward off climate change, Gordon uses the common experience of buying insurance as an analogy. When buying a health care plan, everyone instinctively considers factors like their own risky behaviors (like smoking), their own family history (say, heart disease), their future economic prospects and their future lifestyle, among other things.
This rhetorical move to discount the value of GDP as a metric—which has been afoot for some time now—shows once again that the alarmist crowd realizes that they have a very weak case on conventional grounds. Rather than claiming that it’s a no-brainer that their recommended policies will deliver more benefits than costs, now they are merely claiming these policies make sense by eliminating threats that might occur if no action is taken. (That’s what they are ultimately arguing, by switching to an insurance analogy.) To repeat, this is a definite change in rhetoric; that wasn’t the standard case that was being made ten or even five years ago.
In any event, just by labeling something “insurance” doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good deal. You still have to make a case that the benefits (broadly construed) outweigh the costs of the insurance policy. After all, not everyone buys the most expensive insurance plan available.
When it comes to climate change, in a previous post I walked through the numbers and showed that no one in his right mind would buy an insurance policy that had the same characteristics as the climate change issue. After reviewing the data from the latest IPCC report to get a ballpark estimate of the numbers involved, I wrote:
"Suppose someone from an insurance company came to you in the year 2050 and said, “We’ve run computer models many thousands of times using all kinds of different assumptions. In the worst-case scenario, a very small fraction of the computer runs—about 1 in 500—has you losing 20% of your income in the year 2100. In order to insure you against this extremely unlikely outcome that will occur in half a century, we want to charge you 3.4% of your income this year.”
Would you want to take that deal? Of course not. The premium is way too high in light of the very low probability and the relative modesty of the “catastrophe.”"
Once again, we see that the ThinkProgress crowd doesn’t actually take their own analysis seriously. Sure, use an insurance analogy if you want. But when you plug in the actual numbers, you see that their recommended government interventions would be an outrageously expensive “insurance policy” relative to the benefits it delivers. To be sure, the ThinkProgress people can come back and complain that my analysis relies on the IPCC numbers and that they aren’t really accurate, but it’s not my fault the interventionists have been lecturing us for years that we need to trust the “consensus” as codified in the IPCC and other official documents.
For more than a decade the advocates of aggressive government intervention in the name of fighting first “global warming” and now “climate change” have had a field day labeling their critics as “deniers.” Yet as their critics began reading the actual analyses put out by the IPCC, Congressional Budget Office, and other allegedly neutral parties, a funny thing happened: The critics saw that the aggressive government policies could not be justified using standard metrics.
Realizing this, the proponents of aggressive government measures have begun shifting their rhetoric. Many of them now admit that if we make middle-of-the-road assumptions on emissions growth and the climate’s sensitivity, their recommended policies turn out to be as expensive as the alleged climate damages they seek to prevent. That’s why the alarmists now focus on possible (if unlikely) threats, regional impacts, and insurance analogies.
We can bring the argument to this new battleground; the case for intervention is still weak. But it’s worth noting that the aggressive interventionists have moved the goalposts. By doing so, they implicitly admit that analysts like Jim Manzi, and your humble IER team, have been right all along: Using the government’s own preferred data sources and computer models, it is very difficult to justify policies to restrict carbon dioxide emissions with the metrics that are used for all other government policy debates. The alarmists who have been yelling, “Case closed!” for years were simply bluffing; now they’re trying to reopen the case they realize they’ve lost on their initial terms.
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Posted by JR at 12:34 AM